REGIONAL TRADE AGREEMENTS

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Delegates from the European Union, Japan and Australia delivered presentations comparing their existing and future RTAs with provisions of the WTO's landmark TFA, showing how bilateral, regional and multilateral trade agendas have influenced each other in this area.

This informal discussion was held to follow up on ministers' December 2015 instructions for the committee to discuss the systemic implication of RTAs for the multilateral trading system and their relationship to WTO rules, as reflected in paragraph 28 of the Nairobi ministerial declaration. Besides instructions for holding these discussions, the ministerial declaration also called on WTO members to work towards the transformation of the provisional Transparency Mechanism, which is used to review RTAs, into a permanent one without prejudice to questions related to notification requirements.

The discussion looked at how certain RTAs of these members converge with or diverge from the provisions of the TFA. Members also heard how trade facilitation provisions in RTAs had evolved and shaped TFA negotiations and how, in turn, the TFA could set the basis for customs and trade facilitation chapters in future RTAs.

Some delegations also shared their country experiences with trade facilitation-related provisions in their RTAs.

"I think this has been a constructive discussion," Committee chair Ambassador Daniel Blockert (Sweden) said.

"The discussion today is an example of how the dialogue on systemic implications can be conducted. I hope this work will continue," the chair said.

RTA Transparency Mechanism

The committee discussed the Iceland-Faroe Islands Free Trade Agreement and the Russian Federation-Azerbaijan Free Trade Agreement as part of work under the provisional Transparency Mechanism for RTAs.

Iceland and the Faroe Islands described their agreement covering goods and services as their most comprehensive RTA. Iceland added that the agreement has proven to be successful and beneficial for the general public and deepened and broadened already excellent cooperation between the two nations. The Faroe Islands said the agreement establishes a single economic area and is an important agreement in many ways for both the government and the economy.

The factual presentation on this RTA as well as the document compiling members' questions and answers are available here.

For the Russian Federation-Azerbaijan Free Trade Agreement covering goods, Russia said it considered this RTA to be an important instrument for maintaining and deepening the economic relationship for both countries. Azerbaijan said trade and economic cooperation between the two nations has developed and continues to develop dynamically and successfully with the help of this agreement.

The factual presentation on this RTA as well as the document compiling members' questions and answers are available here.

There are currently 33 RTAs involving WTO members only, plus an additional 29 RTAs involving non-members, for which a factual presentation had yet to be prepared, counting goods and services separately, the chair told members at the meeting. The chair said he had consulted with delegations involved in RTAs for which data submissions were incomplete and hoped they would soon provide missing information.

Members were also reminded that 81 RTAs have not been notified to the WTO as of 27 March 2017 while implementation reports were due for 136 RTAs.

There continues to be disagreement between the Latin American Integration Association (LAIA) countries and other members on the status of LAIA agreements on the list of non-notified agreements. The United States initiated a discussion on the notification format in an effort to address the non-notified agreements. The EU, meanwhile, referred to its questions posed to the LAIA in September 2016; the LAIA indicated that it had recently submitted its responses to these questions to the Committee on Trade and Development.

While WTO members continue to disagree, the chair said as his parting remarks for the last committee meeting under his term that he had "a sense there is a genuine will to try and make progress on this".

"The role of the WTO in monitoring RTAs is a crucial one," the chair said.

Next meeting

The next meeting of the Committee on RTAs has been tentatively scheduled for 29-30 June 2017.

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